Muskegon, Muskegon County's online magazine

If You Find Someone Deceased


If you are an adult child of an aging parent(s) and have taken on the roll of becoming their advocate or caregiver you are to be applauded. It’s no easy feat and can end up being a very long, tiring emotional journey.

I never had an opportunity to take care of my parents (as they both died at a relatively young age when I was in my 20’s), I have watched my friends navigate through caretaking and have even coached them on end-of-life issues. As you can imagine there are numerous questions that revolve on a wide range of topics, some are specific to their family’s financial situation, religious or spiritual beliefs and anything in between.

However, there is always one question that everyone asks, “What do I do, if I find my mother, father, neighbor or even co-worker dead?”

That’s a great question. It’s also a question that everyone should know the answer too. Why? Because in reality, it’s not uncommon that you or someone you know may find themselves in this situation.

People who appear healthy have died unexpectedly shoveling their driveways, exercising, watching television, even sitting in their favorite recliner watching television. For whatever reasons, many of us assume when we die or a loved one dies it will be under the care of hospice, in a care facility or at the hospital. Emotionally, this is the vision many of us have; in reality this takes place about two thirds of the time.

The next few paragraphs are meant to be straightforward advise on the steps a person should take if they find an individual dead.

You want to make sure the person is deceased. In many cases this will be obvious. If its not, you’ll want to check for a pulse and see if the person is breathing -- even if it’s very shallow. If there is the slightest sign that there is breathing or a faint pulse, call 911 and ask for an ambulance.

If the person is under hospice care, call hospice immediately. Hospice has their protocols and they will guide you through what to do, up to and including contacting the funeral home for you. They will pronounce death. Once this has been done and the necessary documentation has occurred the funeral home will take over from there.

Please know that just because death has occurred, if you are the next of kin and found this person, you do have the right to gather family members for a final goodbye before the funeral home care team brings your loved one into their care. This should not be an extended period of time, but if it’s a few hours, that’s perfectly acceptable. If there are family members out of town you can tell the funeral home simply to hold your loved one in their care until the rest of your family comes before decisions are made and you say a final goodbye BEFORE you make your funeral arrangements.

If it’s clear that the individual has died call 911 NOT a funeral home. This is the most common mistake. Why? The police must determine that there was no foul play. The police have protocols that require them to call the medical examiner. The medical examiner will come and determine if there was any foul play involved.

This is a standard operating procedure, so do not be alarmed by this. Nine times out of ten, there is no foul play, but the law is the law and we need to follow the rules. You will want to remain on site to answer questions.

DO NOT attempt to move the deceased or anything in the area where you have found them. Why? Again, if foul play was involved, this would disturb the integrity of a crime scene. Even if everything looks normal, please do not touch or alter the person or the area.

Once the medical examiner has completed their investigation one of two things will take place.

1. The medical examiner will release the body into the care of a funeral home. The family, not the medical examiner, determines the funeral home selection.

2. The medical examiner will want further information about how the deceased died; therefore they will order an autopsy to be conducted. This is non-negotiable. If the medical examiner wants further forensic evidence, the body will then be transported to the closest area where a pathologist will conduct further testing. When this occurs, there is no additional cost for the autopsy to the family. Once the autopsy has been completed the body will be released to the funeral home the family or next of kin has requested. The funeral home will be required to transport the body into their care.

The fact is people are living longer. Many people will want to continue to live independently for as long as they possibly can. Families today are fragmented in terms of geography. If you are a caretaker, a helpful neighbor looking out for your elderly neighbor, or even if you are a person who checks on a co-worker that has not shown up for work, you need to know what to do if you find yourself in the situation of finding a deceased individual.

Yes there are rules, but above all, try to remain calm. Emotions can and do run high. Call 911 and trust the individuals who are trained to handle the situation. They will guide you through this and, above all else, don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you have.

Last but not least, ask for the names and the phone numbers people who came out to assist you on the scene. You may have questions later on down the road that only they are qualified to answer.

To purchase Navigating the Elder Care Journey…Without Going Broke! by Jodi Clock, get info about it, plus tips and news to help you plan for your future and the future of your family, subscribe here. Visit one of Clock Funeral Homes' three locations at 1469 Peck St. in Muskegon, (231) 722-3721; 16777 Lincoln in Grand Haven, (616) 844-4200; or 3592 Pontaluna Rd. in Fruitport, (231) 865 6151. The website contains useful information about services, planning, and more. Information about sister company Clock Timeless Pets is at

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Muskegon is locally owned and produced. Gary Scott Beatty, editor and publisher. Contents and design © Copyright Gary Scott Beatty, 1509 Princeton Rd., Muskegon, Michigan 49441.

Muskegon is an educational and informational service to help you make informed decisions. The content, tools and services of Muskegon are not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment.